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Last season, the Quinnipiac women’s tennis team learned what it takes to win a championship. To repeat this year, the team will have to find out what it takes to defend one, a feat many consider to be the most difficult in all of sports.
Despite having the proverbial bulls-eye painted on its back, the team’s expectations for itself this season have not been lowered. The goal is clear – win the Northeast Conference (NEC) and get back to the NCAA tournament this spring. Last May, in its first-ever Division I NCAA tournament appearance, the team lost in the first round to No. 2 Stanford University.
Part of Head Coach Mike Quitko’s job this year will be to keep the pressure off the team. Likewise, senior captains Liz Axler, of Huntington, NY, and Katherine Ehle, of Marshfield, MA, will play an important role in making sure the team remains focused but relaxed this season.
“They’re the fun of the team,” Quitko said of Axler and Ehle. “I want [the other players] to understand that there is a mixture of fun and hard work that produce an excellent team.”
As captains, Axler and Ehle will have more responsibilities. They will be in charge of holding the team together and acting as good role models for the younger players on the team. But they do not plan on letting that hold them back from having a good time.
“We’re a very spirited bunch,” Ehle said. “We can still have fun, we just have to be a little more serious this year and motivate our team to do well.”
The team lost two players to graduation, including last season’s NEC Player of the Year, Kim Piazza. The two-year captain played both No. 1 singles and doubles for the Bobcats last season. Also graduating this past May was Danielle Rautenburg, who led all NEC players in victories last season with 25.
But Quitko is confident that the Bobcats have players ready to step up and meet the challenges that await the team. Quitko expects freshman Johanna Dorsey, of Wheeling, WV, to fit into the team’s top three positions along with junior Tina Hoang, of Humble, TX, and sophomore Gabby Pasternak, of Glen Rock, NJ. All three of those players are at about the same playing level according to Quitko.
“It’s wonderful to have that much talent at the top, which is where our losses were,” Quitko said. “I’m very pleased with the step-up of the upperclassmen and the new freshmen coming in.”
Quitko said he expects the other freshmen, Amanda Petruzzi, of Bradenton, FL, to see plenty of playing time this year. Rounding out the team’s roster are sophomores Danielle Rodriguez, of Auburn, NY, and Amy Sarrazin, of Lewiston, ME.
The team was scheduled to play at the Yale Invitational last weekend, and then play at the three-day Quinnipiac Invitational beginning this Friday. Rather than looking at this season as a pressure-cooker, Axler sees it as an opportunity for the team to stand its ground.
“Nothing is handed to you, so you always have to keep fighting and working hard at every practice,” Axler said. “All these girls are great, so it’s just fun being here, and winning a title again would be amazing.”
Coach Quitko does not deny that the team has grown a target on its back as the defending NEC champions. But he still believes that this year’s squad is capable of bringing another championship back to Quinnipiac.
“We have a philosophy that we go out and leave it on the court,” Quitko. “If we do play as hard as we can, then we’ll win when we’re supposed to win, and we won’t when we’re not supposed to.”